The success of The Onion and every two-bit hack who has tried to replicate the site’s success has essentially destroyed what little reputation the internet had as a source of reliable information. It has further proved the incalculable level of ignorance that exists among Internet users and the general public. It’s one thing to be listening to the radio, which for many was the only form of communication with the outside world at the time, and really believe that Earth was being invaded by Martians; it’s entirely something else to read or watch something on the Internet and feel compelled to immediately share it before using the most powerful research tool known to mankind to verify your knee-jerk click.
The Onion was created in 1988 and was distributed as a weekly college print publication. In the spring of 1996 The Onion put its content online in the form of a website featuring satirical articles reporting on international, national, and local news. In 2007, the organization began publishing satirical news audio and video online, as the Onion News Network. In 2013, the publication ceased publishing the print edition and launched Onion Labs, an advertising agency.
The Onion and its millions of readers somehow spawned hundreds of copycat sites trying to replicate the magazine’s massive success. Much like watching a comedian bomb on stage, watching and reading some of these satire sites can be painful. Not to mention that some sites, while appearing to be satire to the less ignorant among us, are simply posting ridiculous articles in the hopes of getting readers. More terrifying are the articles written by people who actually believe what they’re writing and the readers who take this information at face value, because it must be true if it’s on the Internet. Yes, they still exist.
Here are a few from the last couple of weeks that caught my attention:
A little-seen story that was two months old, titled “Trump: ‘Build a Fence Around New Mexico’” from the satire site National Report was revived after Trump announced his immigration plan and breathed new life into the article. So much so that the story went viral when 90,000 gullible rubes shared it. Granted, Trump’s plans did include some pretty far-fetched ideas, such as new fees on legal immigration, an end to birthright citizenship, and the construction of an immigrant-funded wall – just not a wall to keep in “the rapists and murderers and drug dealers and all the other low-lifes you have there in Santa Fe.” As an FYI: The stuff on National Report is always satire, even the latest front page article, “Sarah Palin: “This Ashley Madison Lady Needs To Keep Her Hands To Herself!” Although I can see why people would fall for that one.
You may have seen a pre-colonized American map floating around Facebook over the last couple of weeks. After all, it was shared by 360,000 people. The map was originally posted by a New York woman named Aisha Noelle and shows the U.S. divided up into a series of territories named for Native American tribes, and described what she called “America before colonization.” Noelle added that she had “never seen this map in my entire 25 years of formal education,” something she attributes to school curriculum that downplay or denigrate Native Americans. According to Snopes, the map is a piece of specualitve fiction that originally appeared on Reddit – in a section named “Imaginary Maps.” The map is also dated 2015. But why would 360,000 people be slowed down by something as insignificant as a date? Or a real map that they probably saw in school.
And finally, probably one of the weirder and potentially more disturbing “viral” tid-bits is the potentially staged miscarriage announcement by Christian vloggers Sam and Nia Rader announcing their miscarriage. Three videos, posted in rapid fire succession, (1) a pregnancy announcement, (2) a miscarriage announcement and (3) an announcement that husband Sam Rader had quit his job to make confessional videos like (1) and (2) full-time, as a profession. What’s next? That he too was on Ashley Madison and involved in an extra-marital affair as Josh Duggar’s homosexual sex slave?
The odd timing of the videos, along with the Raders’ obvious craving of the limelight (they posted “WE’RE GOING VIRAL!!” after announcing the pregnancy, and “our tiny baby brought 10M views” after announcing the miscarriage), caused internet users to note some discrepancies in their stories. Buzzfeed spoke to several doctors, for instance, who said the unreliable pregnancy test method the Raders used was known to produce false-positives; the hospital where Sam Rader worked also told the site that Sam never actually quit, despite what he said in video No. 3. And more importantly, the Raders could make a lot of money from the pre-roll ads in each of these videos — their miscarriage announcement got nearly 5 million views.
The Raders of course, insist that their videos are genuine. As Sam says in yet another, more recent, video, “A lot of people think it was staged. I’m like, you know what? It was staged. It was all orchestrated by God above and nothing else.” That’s right, not only is God a Conservative, but he orchestrates and directs YouTube videos.
And finally, that obese woman in Louisiana did not starve her children half to death to protect her food. According to the report from Now8News, police in Baton Rouge entered a home after seeing two starving kids in the yard scrounging for food in the trash cans. Upon entering the house, they found four more starving kids, an angry fat mom sleeping on the couch with “a bucket of Popeyes chicken tightly gripped in her arms” and tons of food stashed under lock and key in refrigerators and cabinets. This story also went viral – despite Now8News being a prolific hoax site. And they didn’t even come up with the story on their own. It originally appeared on NewsWatch33 a month ago, with one less kid. NewsWatch33 actually considers its fake content so valuable that if you try to cut a piece from the article you are presented with a copyright warning and are unable to grab any text.
There are a slew of hoax and fake news sites on the internet these days. Unlike The Onion, whose objective seems to be to entertain and amuse, the majority of these sites use bombastic headlines and unbelievable stories to lure readers to the site to pick up revenue from the numerous ads that they post – which typically litter the site. I’m not sure what’s more disheartening: That people intentionally write this sort of garbage to capitalize on other people’s ignorance or that the people that read it are ignorant enough to fall for it and share it to their equally ignorant friends.